Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini turned the media spotlight on three alleged East End drug dealers on Monday to highlight his office’s decision to charge two of them with second-degree manslaughter for the overdose death of one of their customers.
“If you are a non-violent user who is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, we are going to use all our tools to get you into treatment and help you get on that road to recovery,” Mr. Sini said at a press conference immediately after their arraignments in county court on Monday.
“But if you are a drug dealer pedaling poison in our communities and you are killing our residents,” he added, “we are going to aggressively target you through a variety of investigative methods and, where appropriate, charge you with manslaughter and hold you accountable for the death that you cause.”
The three men were arrested after an East End Drug Task Force investigation of a drug-selling operation based out of an auto repair shop at 500 Lincoln Street in Riverhead. All three pleaded not guilt on Monday.
The defendants are John Brophy, 49, of Riverhead, charged with multiple felony counts of drug possession and sale, second-degree manslaughter and conspiracy in the fourth degree; Lashawn Lawrence, 35, of Greenport, charged with manslaughter in the second degree and conspiracy in the fourth degree; and Bryan Hale, 52, of Flanders, the owner of the repair shop, charged with felony sale of a controlled substance, felony possession, conspiracy in the fourth degree, first-degree criminal nuisance and a misdemeanor count of criminal possession of a controlled substance.
If convicted of the top count, Mr. Brophy and Mr. Lawrence face from seven-and-a-half to 15 years in prison.
After police responded to the fatality on September 19, 2018 on Sweezy Avenue in Riverhead, the East End Drug Task Force immediately launched an investigation to find who sold the drugs to the victim. They determined it was Mr. Brophy, acting in concert with Mr. Hale, Mr. Sini said. The drugs, a potent mixture of heroin and fentanyl, were originally supplied by Mr. Lawrence, according to the Task Force.
A previous non-fatal overdose on September 14 resulted in a driver crashing his car into another vehicle on Main Street in Greenport. He had to be revived by Southold Police with the overdose antidote, Narcan.
“The investigation revealed evidence of at least one occasion in which Brophy himself administered Narcan on one of his clients himself,” Mr. Sini said at the press conference. “Think about that for a moment: You’re selling a product, your customer dies in front of you because your product is so potent, you have to administer Narcan on that person, and then you’re so depraved that you continue to sell that product.”
A forensic analysis of Mr. Brophy’s phone revealed an exchange with Mr. Lawrence in which Mr. Brophy alerted him that the drugs they were selling were causing overdoses. Even so, they continued to sell the heroin-fentanyl mixture, according to Mr. Sini.
“This is precisely why fentanyl is so dangerous and often lethal,” Mr. Sini said. “The product is marketed as heroin but it’s cut by drug dealers” with the cheaper drug, fentanyl, “and it can be cut at different stages so drug dealers don’t necessarily know how much fentanyl is in the product. They are playing a game of Russian roulette but with other peoples’ lives.”
The East End Drug Task Force obtained a search warrant and raided the auto repair shop on October 5 and allegedly found Mr. Brophy in possession of a heroin-fentanyl mixture. Mr. Hale was found in possession of Oxycodone. Mr. Lawrence was arrested on February 6 at his home in Greenport.